Mindful Yoga

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Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn pioneered the use of Mindful Yoga to treat stress at his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction clinic. Jon Kabat-Zinn.jpg
Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn pioneered the use of Mindful Yoga to treat stress at his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction clinic.

Mindful Yoga [1] or Mindfulness Yoga [2] combines Buddhist-style mindfulness practice with yoga as exercise to provide a means of exercise that is also meditative and useful for reducing stress. Buddhism and Hinduism have since ancient times shared many aspects of philosophy and practice including mindfulness, understanding the suffering caused by an erroneous view of reality, and using concentrated and meditative states to address such suffering.


The use of a hybrid of yoga and mindfulness for stress was pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn in America in 1990. It has since been advocated in differing forms by yoga and meditation teachers and authors from many backgrounds, such as Anne Cushman, Frank Jude Boccio, Stephen Cope, Janice Gates, Cyndi Lee, Phillip Moffitt, and Sarah Powers. Courses in Mindful Yoga are provided in Buddhist meditation centres, yoga studios, and stress clinics around the world.



Hinduism and Buddhism share many of the concepts behind Mindful Yoga, such as karma, the endless chain of cause-and-effect, symbolised by the endless knot at the centre of this Nepalese prayer wheel. Hand made prayer wheel from Nepal.jpg
Hinduism and Buddhism share many of the concepts behind Mindful Yoga, such as karma , the endless chain of cause-and-effect, symbolised by the endless knot at the centre of this Nepalese prayer wheel.

The teacher of Mindful Yoga Anne Cushman notes that Hatha yoga and Buddhist meditation are branches of the same Indian contemplative tradition. In her view, asanas are both objects of meditation, and useful for preparing mind and body for sitting meditation, while Buddhism offers a formal structure of meditation techniques and philosophy that can exploit the "sensitivity, concentration, discipline and energy cultivated during asana practice." [3]

In his 2006 book The Wisdom of Yoga, the psychotherapist and yoga scholar Stephen Cope examines the overlap of Patanjali's raja yoga and Buddhism. He notes that both were mainly concerned with "the problem of suffering, and the problem of seeing reality clearly." [4] Both traditions provided three sets of tools: techniques for cultivating skilful behaviour to reduce suffering; techniques to develop intense states of concentration; and ways of investigating how the "self" is constructed by the mind. Both recognise "ordinary reality" as a confusing mental construction, as modern constructivism does, Cope writes. [4] They agree that abolishing such confusion of thought permanently ends suffering. They agree, too, he states, on numerous "pillars" of their accounts of reality, with the concepts of nirodha (stilling the mind), klesha (afflictions), karma (cause and effect), samvega (urgent desire to change), samadhi (concentration), prajna (insight into reality), and samskara (impressions on consciousness). [4] However, Cope writes, the meditation and "insight" practices described by Patanjali are missing from the mainstream Western tradition of yoga, though they are taught within Buddhism. [4]


The professor of medicine and pioneer of Mindfulness Yoga Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote in 1990 that "Mindful hatha yoga is the third major formal meditation technique that we practice in the stress clinic [at the University of Massachusetts Medical School], along with the body scan [lower-alpha 1] and sitting meditation…" [6] Kabat-Zinn developed the original course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction including sitting meditation and Mindful Yoga. [7]

Practitioners can use yoga asanas such as Virabhadrasana I as an opportunity to observe their thoughts and sensations. Yoga Therapy teacher training course.jpg
Practitioners can use yoga asanas such as Virabhadrasana I as an opportunity to observe their thoughts and sensations.

In 2008, the yoga teacher and editor of Yoga Journal Nora Isaacs wrote a feature on bringing "Mindfulness onto the Mat", noting that teachers from many backgrounds, such as Frank Jude Boccio, [2] Cope, Janice Gates, Cyndi Lee, Phillip Moffitt, and Sarah Powers, had "each, independently, discovered the benefits of merging mindfulness with asana", leading to "something we might call 'Mindful Yoga'." [1] Isaacs described the benefit of not reacting to the discomfort that one might feel in a standing asana such as Virabhadrasana I, instead just observing one's thoughts and sensations in the pose. She commented that the noble eightfold path of Buddhism and the Patanjali's eight-limbed yoga have similarities, both going from "ethical practices and conduct and include training in concentration and awareness." [1] She quotes Cope as saying that he sees "Buddha and Patanjali as brothers, using different languages, but speaking about and pointing to the same thing". [1] Isaacs writes that yoga stresses concentration on a single object such as the breath, whereas Buddhism calls for mindfulness of all events as they come to one's consciousness. [1] She quotes Boccio as saying that he does not just practice asanas mindfully; "I teach and practice mindfulness through the form of asana." [1] Isaacs reports, too, that Cushman finds that mindfulness practice can enliven yoga for people who find sitting meditation difficult. [1]


The Vice President of India, Venkaiah Naidu, releasing Mansi Gulati's book Yoga and Mindfulness, New Delhi, 2018 The Vice President, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu addressing the gathering after releasing the Book 'Yoga and Mindfulness', authored by well known Yoga exponent, Ms. Mansi Gulati, in New Delhi on October 29, 2018 (2).JPG
The Vice President of India, Venkaiah Naidu, releasing Mansi Gulati's book Yoga and Mindfulness, New Delhi, 2018

The yoga teacher Michelle Ribeiro writes that Mindful Yoga "applies traditional Buddhist mindfulness teachings to the physical practice of yoga; it is the holistic approach of connecting your mind to your breath." [9] For her, the key point is to be open to and interested in sensations in the body, so each one can be investigated fully and then released. [9]

Cope notes in addition that yoga's asanas and pranayama, yoga breathing, "have found their way into many Buddhist meditation retreats", just as Buddhist meditation practices have appeared in yoga studios, so the "sister traditions" are beginning a "rapprochement", or a continuation of the exchange of practices and thinking that has carried on for two millennia. [4]

Cushman writes that when she first taught yoga on a meditation retreat, her pupils told her that doing yoga gave them a fresh way to connect to "mindful presence", and made it easier to bring what they had discovered in meditation back into daily life. [10]

The practice of Mindful Yoga has spread to meditation centres and stress clinics, with drop-in classes and courses available around the world, for example in the West London Buddhist Centre. [11]


In 2004, Boccio published Mindfulness Yoga, relating Buddhism, especially the techniques of the Anapanasati Sutta and Satipatthana Sutta , to Yoga, especially the Yoga Sutras , and asanas. [2] Also in 2004, Lee published her Yoga Body, Buddha Mind, advocating a combined practice, stating that "yoga helps Buddhists embody their meditation ... Similarly, the specific focus of Buddhist mindfulness and compassion helps the yogi's mind become unbiased, wakeful, and connected". [12] This has been followed by other books such as Charlotte Bell's 2005 Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice, structured around the eight limbs of Patanjali's yoga, [13] Anne Cushman's 2014 Moving into Meditation with awareness of the body, [14] Hannah Moss's 2018 The Practice of Mindful Yoga: A Connected Path to Awareness, which argues that "Yoga is only safe and effective when it has mindfulness at its heart", [15] and Robert Butera's 2018 Body Mindful Yoga: Create a Powerful and Affirming Relationship with Your Body. [16]


  1. Cushman states "This body-sensing journey [in which full attention is given to one part of the body after another, feeling any sensations that are there] ... is one variation of the ancient practice of Yoga nidra ... and of the body-scan technique commonly used in the Buddhist Vipassana tradition." [5]

Related Research Articles

Meditation Mental practice of focus on a particular object, thought or activity to improve ones mind

Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. Scholars have found meditation elusive to define, as practices vary both between traditions and within them.

Yoga Spiritual practices from ancient India

Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines that originated in ancient India, aimed at controlling ('yoking') and stilling the mind, and recognizing the detached 'witness-consciousness' as untouched by the activities of the mind and mundane suffering. There are a broad variety of yoga schools, practices, and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, and traditional forms and modern methods of yoga are practiced worldwide.

Yoga nidra or yogic sleep is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, like the "going-to-sleep" stage, typically induced by a guided meditation.

Mindfulness is the practice of purposely bringing one's attention in the present moment without evaluation, a skill one develops through meditation or other training. Mindfulness derives from sati, a significant element of Buddhist traditions, and based on Zen, Vipassanā, and Tibetan meditation techniques. Though definitions and techniques of mindfulness are wide-ranging, Buddhist traditions explain what constitutes mindfulness such as how past, present and future moments arise and cease as momentary sense impressions and mental phenomena. Individuals who have contributed to the popularity of mindfulness in the modern Western context include Thích Nhất Hạnh, Herbert Benson, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Richard J. Davidson, and Sam Harris.

Buddhist meditation practice of meditation in Buddhism

Buddhist meditation is the practice of meditation in Buddhism. The closest words for meditation in the classical languages of Buddhism are bhāvanā and jhāna/dhyāna.

Jon Kabat-Zinn American professor emeritus of medicine

Jon Kabat-Zinn is an American professor emeritus of medicine and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Kabat-Zinn was a student of Zen Buddhist teachers such as Philip Kapleau, Thich Nhat Hanh and Seung Sahn and a founding member of Cambridge Zen Center. His practice of yoga and studies with Buddhist teachers led him to integrate their teachings with scientific findings. He teaches mindfulness, which he says can help people cope with stress, anxiety, pain, and illness. The stress reduction program created by Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), is offered by medical centers, hospitals, and health maintenance organizations, and is described in his book Full Catastrophe Living.

The Vipassanā movement, also called the Insight Meditation Movement and American vipassana movement, refers to a branch of modern Burmese Theravāda Buddhism which promotes "bare insight" (sukha-vipassana) to attain stream entry and preserve the Buddhist teachings, which gained widespread popularity since the 1950s, and to its western derivatives which were popularised since the 1970s, giving rise to the more dhyana-oriented mindfulness movement.

Buddhism and psychology

Buddhism includes an analysis of human psychology, emotion, cognition, behavior and motivation along with therapeutic practices. Buddhist psychology is embedded within the greater Buddhist ethical and philosophical system, and its psychological terminology is colored by ethical overtones. Buddhist psychology has two therapeutic goals: the healthy and virtuous life of a householder and the ultimate goal of nirvana, the total cessation of dissatisfaction and suffering (dukkha).

Eastern philosophy in clinical psychology refers to the influence of Eastern philosophies on the practice of clinical psychology based on the idea that East and West are false dichotomies. Travel and trade along the Silk Road brought ancient texts and mind practices deep into the West. Vedic psychology dates back 5000 years and forms the core of mental health counselling in the Ayurvedic medical tradition. The knowledge that enlightened Siddhartha Gautama was the self-management of mental suffering through mindfulness awareness practices. Humane interpersonal care of the mentally disturbed was practiced in the Middle East in the Middle Ages, and later in the West. Many of the founders of clinical psychology were influenced by these ancient texts as translations began to reach Europe during the 19th century.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an eight-week evidence-based program that offers secular, intensive mindfulness training to assist people with stress, anxiety, depression and pain. Developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the 1970s by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, MBSR uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, yoga and exploration of patterns of behaviour, thinking, feeling and action. Mindfulness can be understood as the non-judgmental acceptance and investigation of present experience, including body sensations, internal mental states, thoughts, emotions, impulses and memories, in order to reduce suffering or distress and to increase well-being. Mindfulness meditation is a method by which attention skills are cultivated, emotional regulation is developed, and rumination and worry are significantly reduced. During the past decades, mindfulness meditation has been the subject of more controlled clinical research, which suggests its potential beneficial effects for mental health, as well as physical health. While MBSR has its roots in spiritual teachings, the program itself is secular. The MBSR program is described in detail in Kabat-Zinn's 1990 book Full Catastrophe Living.

<i>Dhyāna</i> in Buddhism Training of the mind through meditation

In the oldest texts of Buddhism, dhyāna (Sanskrit) or jhāna (Pāḷi) is the training of the mind, commonly translated as meditation, to withdraw the mind from the automatic responses to sense-impressions, and leading to a "state of perfect equanimity and awareness (upekkhā-sati-parisuddhi)." Dhyāna may have been the core practice of pre-sectarian Buddhism, in combination with several related practices which together lead to perfected mindfulness and detachment.

Meditative postures

Meditative postures or meditation seats are the body positions or asanas, usually sitting but also sometimes standing or reclining, used to facilitate meditation. Best known in the Buddhist and Hindu traditions are the lotus and kneeling positions; other options include sitting on a chair, with the spine upright.

Phillip Moffitt

Phillip Moffitt is a vipassana (insight) meditation teacher, former publishing executive, author, and an instructor at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California.

Anne Cushman is a teacher of yoga as exercise and meditation, an author on the intersection of those topics long thought to be distinct but now widely called Mindful Yoga, and a novelist. Her novel Enlightenment for Idiots was named by Booklist as one of the top ten novels of 2008.

Frank Jude Boccio is a teacher and one of the originators of mindful yoga. He is known both for his teaching in centres across America, and for his 2004 book Mindfulness Yoga: The Awakened Union of Breath, Body and Mind, which describes a practice that combines yoga as exercise and Buddhist meditational practice.

Ashtanga (eight limbs of yoga)

Ashtanga yoga is Patanjali's classification of classical yoga, as set out in his Yoga Sutras. He defined the eight limbs as yamas (abstinences), niyama (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption).

Breathworks British mindfulness organization

BreathworksCIC is an international mindfulness organization founded in the United Kingdom, which offers mindfulness-based approaches to living well with pain, stress, and illness. It is known particularly for developing the approach of mindfulness-based pain management (MBPM), which shares many elements with mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) but is adapted specifically for those living with chronic pain and illness, and incorporates a distinctive emphasis on the practice of 'loving-kindness'. Breathworks is a registered Community Interest Company (CIC) in the United Kingdom, and has nearly 500 accredited teachers working in 35 countries.

Vidyamala Burch Mindfulness teacher

Vidyamala Burch is a mindfulness teacher, writer, and co-founder of Breathworks, an international mindfulness organization known particularly for developing mindfulness-based pain management (MBPM). The British Pain Society has recognized her "outstanding contribution to the alleviation of pain", and in 2019 she was named on the Shaw Trust Power 100 list of the most influential disabled people in the UK. Burch's book Mindfulness for Health won the British Medical Association's 2014 Medical Books Award in the Popular Medicine category.

<i>Full Catastrophe Living</i>

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness is a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn, first published in 1990, which describes the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center's Stress Reduction Clinic. In addition to describing the content and background of MBSR, Kabat-Zinn describes scientific research showing the medical benefits of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs), and lays out an approach to mind-body medicine emphasizing the depth of the interconnections between physical and mental health. The book has been called "one of the great classics of mind/body medicine", and has been seen as a landmark in the development of the secular mindfulness movement in the United States and internationally.

Cyndi Lee is a teacher of mindful yoga, a combination of Tibetan Buddhist practice and yoga as exercise. She has an international reputation and is the author of several books on her approach.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Isaacs, Nora (21 October 2008). "Bring More Mindfulness Onto the Mat". Yoga Journal . Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  2. 1 2 3 Boccio, Frank Jude (2004). Mindfulness Yoga: The Awakened Union of Breath Body and Mind . whole book: Wisdom Publications. ISBN   978-0861713356.
  3. Cushman, Anne (July 2003). "Yoga Chic and the First Noble Truth". Shambhala Sun (July 2003): 42–47.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Cope, Stephen (2006). The Wisdom of Yoga : Seeker's Guide to Extraordinary Living . Bantam Books. pp.  276-282. ISBN   978-0-553-38054-5. OCLC   64098584.
  5. Cushman 2014, pp. 44–45.
  6. Kabat-Zinn, Jon (1990). "Mindful Yoga" (PDF). Palouse Mindfulness. Retrieved 11 April 2019. excerpted from Kabat-Zinn, Jon (1990). Full Catastrophe Living . Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing.
  7. "Syllabus for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course". MBSR Training. Retrieved 18 April 2020. Welcome, to the true Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. Developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
  8. Gulati, Mansi (2018). Yoga and Mindfulness: The Basics. Konark Publishers. ISBN   978-9322008840.
  9. 1 2 Ribeiro, Michelle (15 April 2019). "What is Mindful Yoga? 4 Poses + Yoga Retreats". Positive Psychology.
  10. Cushman 2014, p. x.
  11. "Mindful Yoga". West London Buddhist Centre. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  12. Lee, Cyndi (2004). Yoga Body, Buddha Mind. Riverhead Books. p. 12 and throughout.
  13. Bell, Charlotte (2005). Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice. whole book: Rodmell Press. ISBN   978-1930485204.
  14. Cushman 2014, pp. xi–xii.
  15. Moss, Hannah (2018). The Practice of Mindful Yoga: A Connected Path to Awareness. Leaping Hare Press. p. 10. ISBN   978-1782405696.
  16. Butera, Robert (2018). Body Mindful Yoga: Create a Powerful and Affirming Relationship with Your Body. whole book: Llewellyn Publications. ISBN   978-0738756738.